Welding – Beyond the Sparks and the Arc

by Lynn Wallis

March 29, 2023

What do skyscrapers, automobiles, rockets, and ships have in common? In all likelihood, they have all been welded. According to the American Welding Society, an estimated 50% of the United States gross national product is affected by welding. Anything made of metal, no matter how big or small, can be welded. Skyscrapers, bridges, and highways would be impossible to build without welding, as would oil and natural-gas pipelines, giant wind turbines, and solar panels.

The Evolution of Welding

According to the National Center for Welding Education and Training, the birth of welding can be traced back to the Bronze Age more than 5,000 years ago when a clever individual came up with an idea to heat a strong metal like bronze until it melted, then pound it with a hammer to make an object. Moving forward a few thousand years, people in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean began using welded alloys to make weapons and tools around 1400 B.C. This was the beginning of the Iron Age of civilization.

The art of blacksmithing, or forge welding, was developed during the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th century, according to the Welding Leader. Blacksmithing produced items made of iron that were welded together by applying heat and hammering. Then with the onset of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s, many pieces fell in place to make welding a driving force in manufacturing, including the invention of arc welding as we know it today.

In the last 100 years, welding processes have proven vital to the economical fabrication of almost all metal items. World Wars I and II both depended on quick and reliable methods for joining metals for implements of warfare. Over the last 50 years, welding and material joining has become more automated, productive, and safer. New processes – such as electron beam welding, friction welding, plasma arc welding, friction stir welding, explosion welding, and laser beam welding – have increased the range of materials and components that can be welded. In addition, industrial robots and computer-controlled automated welding are used today to improve both quality and productivity.  

What Do Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers Do?

Basically, welders and solderers use heat to permanently join pieces of metal together. Welding is the most common method used to join metal parts in large structures and equipment due to its strength. Soldering and brazing are similar processes to welding but are used on electronic and other small equipment and use lower temperatures to melt the filler metal.

Most welding done today falls into one of two categories: arc welding (the use of an electrical arc to melt the work materials) and torch welding (the use of an oxyacetylene torch to melt the working material and welding rod). There are more than 100 welding processes that a welder can use and most involve a skilled worker using a high-heat torch, filler material that is usually in wire or stick form, and pressure to permanently bond metal pieces.

Cutters use heat to cut and trim metal objects to a specific size. While the work of cutters is related to that of welders and solderers, cutters use heat from an electric arc or gases to cut and trim metal objects rather than joining them.

Workers in these occupations may work indoors or outdoors – sometimes in bad weather or in a confined area – and occasionally work at high elevations. Safety procedures are important for workers to follow due to frequent exposure to hazardous conditions that include extremely hot materials and intense light. To avoid injuries, safety procedures should be followed such as safety shoes, goggles, masks with protective lenses, and other equipment to prevent burns and eye injuries.

The Employment Department’s Occupation Profiles tool provides additional information on this occupation including current employment openings, regional wage information, training programs, and other Oregon-specific information.

Numerous Career Paths and No College Degree Required

Welding is one of the few career choices that seem to be in high demand at all times. This is because welders are needed in almost every industry. Oregon hourly wages in 2022 vary from $18.40 for entry-level positions to $31.57 for experienced welders at the high end of the pay scale. According to GoWelding, the salaries of welders may vary a lot depending on how skilled the worker is and if he/she is willing to travel and/or work in hazardous conditions. Far ranging opportunities and often higher wages exist for welders who are willing to travel. Examples of traveling jobs include work in shipbuilding and maintenance, military support, pipeline installation, and under water welding.

No statewide license is required for welding, cutting, soldering, and brazing workers in Oregon although welders who work on particular projects such as bridges, boilers, and other more specialized jobs do have special licensing and certification requirements. These applicants must pass an exam and demonstrate their skill and knowledge of welding. Welding certification standards are defined by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Welding Society.

Training for this occupation varies broadly from a few weeks of schooling or on-the-job training to several years of combined schooling and on-the-job training. Most welders, according to the Oregon Career Information System, learn their job skills through a formal training program in either high school, professional-technical schools, or two-year colleges. Some branches of the military also train people to be welders and metal workers.

The latest Instructional Program Report on the Occupation Profiles tool shows that 366 people completed welding technology training in Oregon’s academic institutions during the 2020-2021 academic year. Training typically involves instruction in arc welding, resistance welding, brazing and soldering, cutting, high beam welding and cutting, solid state welding, ferrous and non-ferrous materials, oxidation-reduction reactions, welding metallurgy, and other welding processes and standards.
Graph showing Oregon welding technology program completers, 2020-2021 graduates

The majority of welding-technology program completers, 263 (71.9%), earned a certificate from one of the 14 Oregon community colleges that offered programs in 2021. Another 72 completers (19.7%) earned an associate’s degree and one student served an apprenticeship. A number of students (30) received their welding training in one of the four Job Corps training programs in Oregon. To qualify for Job Corps training, participants must be 16 to 24 years of age, meet low-income criteria, and face one or more barriers to employment.

Industries of Employment

Oregon’s welders and solderers work in many types of industries, but the majority of workers (71%) were concentrated in manufacturing industries in 2021.Three manufacturing sub-sectors – transportation equipment, machinery, and fabricated metals – provided the lion’s share of jobs in manufacturing.
Graph showing majority of welders work in manufacturing industries, Oregon: 2021
Welders and solderers work in a very large occupation. In 2021, there were 5,375 welders in Oregon. Occupational Projections anticipate employment growth of 15.6% through year 2031, higher than the statewide average of 12.8% for all occupations. There are expected to be 631 annual openings in the state, which include both growth and replacement job openings.

Welding Into the Future

According to Careersinwelding.com, science and technology continue to evolve and this creates new opportunities for metal and welding workers. Examples include giant telescopes, robots, wind turbines, rocket welding technologies, and custom vehicles.

Because the basic skills of welding are the same across all industries, it is relatively easy for these workers to use their transferable skills when moving from one industry to another. Expected growth in the defense industry, new technology, and future demand for repair of the nation’s aging infrastructure will continue to contribute to the high demand for workers in this occupation.

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